Friday, September 11

The Day I Started Paying Attention

Everyone knows where they were, who they were with, and what they originally thought was happening on September 11th. Everyone.

I woke up to my clock radio dialed to 107.7 The End every day of the school week. The fall soccer season had started, and this meant getting up earlier than usual to not only beat the traffic but to run suicides up and down the fields while they were still wet. I woke up at 6:45am, tossed and turned a bit, and tried to drown out whatever garble was coming through the speaker. The DJs who were usually jokey or even crude sounded somber and morose. No sound effects were poorly placed in dialogue, and no callers were live on the air. In my haze of hypersomnia, I heard "...plane crashed into the Twin Towers this morning..."

That Tuesday morning was beautiful, not just here but all over the country. The morning weather reports were especially particular about pointing out that the entire nation was experiencing beautiful weather for the month of September. I awoke and looked outside to see my section of the atmospheric conditions. Only a few more weeks until Seattle was wet, soggy, and unconditionally depressed until the following spring -- time to take it in while we can. Wait, didn't I hear something about a plane crash? How could a plane not steer clear of a giant landmark like the World Trade Center in such beautiful weather? Hmm.

I got out of bed and got ready for the day. At the time I was in one of those junior high relationships. I had to circumnavigate parents and leave awkward voicemails on the family phone in order to be reached. AOL Instant Messenger relieved some of the anxiety provided by landline phones, and email was only for Neopet notifications and confirming your new AOL screen name from which to stalk your next boyfriend and reflect your personality for the better part of the week. His door had to be open if I came over. It was around this time that I started taking more pride in my appearance and dressing for others as opposed to myself. Somewhat contradictory, I know.

I shoved my cleats, shinguards, and jersey into a Diadora duffle and went downstairs for breakfast. My mom was sitting at the kitchen table and my dad was sitting on the couch, both were starring at what I realized was no Cessna-sized matter. Gargantuan trails of smoke billowed away from each tower, leaving me with the haunting realization from the commercial jet weapons inside that we were no longer safe.

My dad stood up from the couch with tears in his eyes. "We're under attack."

What? The United States? Who the fuck would attack the United States? I mentally rattled off a list of people who I thought could have been responsible besides extraterrestrials: the Japanese, the Russians, or a couple of angry white dudes from Oklahoma. At the time, these seemed like genuine possibilities. The WTC attack in 1993 contributed to many conclusions of who were the skyjacking culprits. I simply didn't remember the attack in the early 90s, but every parent or anyone who has ever been to New York in the last 10 years had figured it out. This was no Timothy McVeigh / Terry Nichols fertilizer plan hatched in the back of a Ryder truck. This was serious.

Attack? There was more than just the horrific live feed on our television? My dad explained to me that the Pentagon was also hit and there were unconfirmed reports that a plane headed towards the White House was lost somewhere in the now closed airspace. My mom got up from the kitchen table and went for her purse. She handed me $100 and a cell phone. "We don't know what's going to happen today. Take these two things if you need to get home. Whatever happens, just get home." Jesus Christ, mom. If there's anyway to scare the everliving and image-obsessed fuck out of a 13-year-old, that's how to do it. Never in my life had I assumed I was in that much danger. What was happening to my safety? I felt so violated, vulnerable. What was happening to our country? The country that protected me and my family? The country that, I assumed, had no foreseeable enemies in the modern world?

My carpool picked me up a few minutes later to take me to school. The mom and daughter team who were infamous for fighting over which ads they wanted to listen to on the morning radio had not been informed of the morning's catastrophic events. The only reason I was aware of this was because some Kylie Minogue techno horseshit was coming through the Acura's speakers and not the voice of sad DJ. "...did you guys hear what happened?" They were immediately worried.

"What happened?"
"Two planes hit the Twin Towers this morning."

The girl's mom leaped into action by throwing the dial to NPR while the girl sulked because she was missing out on the hit song from yet another plastic mishap. The rest of the way to school, we sat in silence, listening to the towers falling, the list of proposed suspects, the current, crumbling state of national security. It was during the drive to school that United 93 crashed in Pennsylvania. Airspace in the United States was completely closed. Living under the flight path to Sea-Tac meant a continuous hum of Boeing jets safely lowering towards the runway. International flights were being diverted to Canadian airports, some of which were the subjects of documentaries years later ("Operation Yellow Ribbon" I believe is the title of one of these).

I arrived at school to complete chaos. Classes were clearly not going to start on time. A few kids were crying, kids who had relatives or friends in New York City with whom they couldn't get in touch, and some who had no other way to emotionally process the event. I saw a group of teachers in a small huddle, probably in deep debate on what exactly to tell us that morning. The majority of us had already seen or heard the news, so it's not like they were going to reveal something new, maybe to the few of us who were completely crushed at the lack of pop music on the morning radio.

We got a debrief from a few different teachers. "We're going to go about our day, but we understand this is a difficult time for everyone." Nothing was accomplished that day at school. Each class I went to was prepared with a grainy television to watch the outpouring of conspiracies and comments from Henry Kissinger, Dubya, and Colin Powell. It was an incredibly distracting day, but as the hours passed, it seemed less and less of a possibility that I would need the $100 and cell phone my mom carefully passed to me earlier in the morning.

I went to soccer practice later in the day. The sky hadn't seen a cloud all day, and there were planes that hadn't seen the sky that day. Flights were cancelled for four days after the attack, slowly resuming stateside and then internationally. I remember being incredibly thankful that my dad wasn't traveling at the time, as he traveled extensively for his job in Europe and Asia. The three of us had dinner that night, silently chewed our food while watching footage of that second plane hitting over and over and over and over and over and over and over. The terrorists wanted to instill fear by the use of current technology, and in many ways, they succeeded. $100 and a cell phone kind of fear. Close domestic airspace kind of fear. Go to war with a country under false pretenses kind of fear.

There are kids alive today who have no idea what pre-9/11 life was like. Gas was cheaper. You could go anywhere in the airport without a ticket OR identification. People were invincible. 9/11 simply put our reality in check: we are not invincible, and the atrocious happenings of September 11th helps us remember that. Even the most powerful can be vulnerable.

Fourteen years later, I'm sitting in a coffee shop on my laptop. There isn't a cloud in the gorgeous blue sky, and I have $100 and a cell phone. I wanted to write this because even though everyone has a different story about what happened that day, we all experienced the same unforgettable event. For a while, we were incredibly scared. But now we're back to being Americans: beer drinking (most of us), legalized marijuana smoking, equal rights supporting, football season loving, animal hunting, Facebook updating, vegan reminding, religion quoting, Breaking Bad obsessing, Kim Davis hating Americans.

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